Friday, May 19, 2006

Visit to Migdal HaEmek, Upper Nazereth, and Nahalal

Yesterday we toured several towns in the Galilee, east of Haifa. We were the guests of an endeavor called Partnership 2000 under the sponsorship of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Ann Arbor, Detroit, and other Michigan cities exchange visits and in partnership with towns in this region do various projects. Our host for the day was Ziva, the coordinator of the Partnership office in the region.

We began with a guided visit to two cemeteries: the 3rd and 4th century cemetery called Bet Shearim, and the 20th century Nahalal cemetery. In the Mishnaic era, inspired by the sage Judah ha-Nasi, many Diaspora Jews had their bodies returned to Bet Shearim for interrment in stone or metal sarcophagi. The caves where burials took place were rediscovered in the 1920s. Inscriptions and carved images on the sarcophagi give insights into the life and attitudes of the dispersed Jews of that era. Many include quite pagan images, such as Nike or Zeus. Without hearing it explicitly, we grasped how Jewish history is very rooted in this area.

The Nahalal cemetery, not far away, reflects the recent Zionist history of the region. Nalalal is a carefully designed town set out in a circle. Houses are in the center and farms radiate outward. The cemetery is on a wooded hill overlooking the stunning green Jezreel valley and the town. Famous residents of the region who are buried there include Moshe Dyan and Ilan Ramon, the astronaut who died in the Challenger disaster.

Our guide -- a local history buff -- also pointed out the graves of the grandparents of writer Meir Shalev, whose book I just bought. When I hear of something for the first time, I always seem to hear of it again right away. The book I'm reading is about the region, and I hadn't even connected these facts.

Our tour continued with visits to projects whose funding partially comes from the Ann Arbor Jewish community. We visited an elementary school with a program in Jewish Family education, a women's center with a program for battered women, and an after-school youth drama program. At the school, children performed a dance to a song dating from the 1973 war, about determination to continue in adverse circumstances (see illustration above). All Israelis know this song -- as all our hosts had known the song that's written on Ilan Ramon's grave.

We also heard a PowerPoint presentation entirely in Hebrew, with all-Hebrew slides. Though Ziva translated, circles and boxes don't help slides much if you can't read what's inside. We learned that according to the assembled teachers and administrators, there is no word in Hebrew for accountability. We became much more familiar with the Jewish Family Education program that Ann Arbor's community sponsors. I was delighted to see that the school has several ecology and conservation prograns. In the school garden, even small children cultivate vegetables, which they later eat as part of the lunch program.

For this part of the day, Ziva acted as our guide. We learned a little more about her as well: she lives on an old-fashioned kibbutz, where members turn in their salaries and all receive "what they need." The kibbutz is modern, though, in that it runs a factory and also other non-agricultural endeavors. Although Israel still produces and exports many agricultural products, most kibbutzes have had to expand their investment areas and go beyond orange groves and fields.

As we drove from Migdal HaEmek, site of the school, to Upper Nazereth, site of the women's program, we went through the Arab part of Nazereth. We saw Palestinian flags, though the inhabitants are citizens of Israel. We saw a large green-painted Statue of Liberty with ropes and chains around it. Quite symbolic. I'm beginning to understand the hardening of Israeli attitudes towards the Arab citizens of Israel.

Dinner was at the home of a family who have often visited Ann Arbor and other US cities. I met the couple last fall when they had lunch with the committee that I am on, and now we also met three of their four children. They live on a farm in one of the wedge-shaped areas radiating from the center of Nahalal: we could hear the cows mooing while we were eating. The food was great: fish, potatoes, salad, cakes.

We enjoyed talking to them and to their daughter who's in the army. She answered one question about something I noticed on women soldiers on the train: are hip-hugger pants really part of the regulation uniform? No, the women have them altered, and they can be confined to base as a punishment for wearing them. She serves on an army base adjacent to one of the difficult cities in the territories. The army now has special units for dealing with each city, so that if there is a problem, it can be handled by soldiers who really know the area. Her job is social work: home visits to soliders with problems.

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